James Franklin heard the grumbling from fans after Penn State surrendered a 15-point fourth-quarter lead at Ohio State and lost for the first time in 2017. Why couldn't the Nittany Lions finish the job? What happened to the running game? Why couldn't they get to Buckeyes quarterback J.T. Barrett?
Franklin wanted them all to know Tuesday that he's heard them, and the critics in the media as well, following the 39-38 defeat on Saturday. He said he recognizes what the issues are, and he and his team are hard at work trying to eliminate them. But there is no panic.
"There's obvious areas where we need to get better," Franklin said at his weekly teleconference. "I recognize them just like you guys [media] do and the fans, but we're not panicking right here. There's issues that need to be addressed, and I promise you they're being addressed and worked on.
"But we're not going to go into panic mode because we lost to the No. 6-ranked team in the country on the road by one point. Do we need to finish better? Yes. Do I take responsibility? No doubt. Do I have tough conversations with my staff about the things we need to get better about? Yes. Do I challenge the players to take a hard look at themselves to grow and as a program? Yeah.
"But I am going to stay positive. We're going to work on our challenges and issues every week no matter what the results are. … I just want everybody to understand very clearly, we recognize them and we're going to be working on them as hard as we possibly can to give us the best chance to be successful this week against Michigan State."
Now facing an uphill battle in their bid to repeat as Big Ten champions, the Nittany Lions (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) will travel to East Lansing to take on the Spartans (6-2, 4-1) on Saturday.
The running game in particular has been puzzling. Saquon Barkley had a long run early in the game for the second straight week but was stopped cold after that. Franklin is disturbed by the negative-yardage plays and for good reason — eight of Barkley's 14 second-half runs against Ohio State lost yardage.
"We need to eliminate the negative-yardage runs in our running game where I think it shows up when you see the defender in the backfield right around the time that Saquon is getting the ball," he said. "There's some things that we can do to help, and we do that, take advantage of those situations."
Franklin also answered critics who wonder how Barkley can generate any momentum taking a handoff while standing still instead of taking it going toward the line.
"We actually sped it up a little bit this offseason," he said. "We're doing it exactly the way we've done it with one of the most explosive offenses in the country for the last two years. This is the style that we've been playing. This is how we've been doing it.
"For a little bit of perspective, in the last 18 games, we've been 16-2. We've lost those two games by four points with one of the most explosive offenses in the country."
The offensive line took a hit when tackle Ryan Bates (Archbishop Wood) went out in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury. Bates later came back for one series before spending the rest of the day on the sideline. Franklin did not speak about his status for Saturday.
Michigan State will present problems for Penn State's rushing attack. The Spartans lead the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing just 89.8 yards per game.